black medulla

“I emulate the black which is a cry but which is not voluptuary like a warning,
which has lines, cuts, drips, aspirates, trembles with horror,
O black looks at the base of the spine! kisses on the medulla oblongata
of an inky clarity!”
— Frank O’Hara

 

Look at the base of my spine: yellow-brown
shelf where i store my tension like tomes.

………..O black looks only through my eyes—same dark

melting brown as my father
& his rail of a mother
dripping with beads & baubles—i tell him after she dies you have the same
eyes that look
………..to my yellow spine, wonder if i will be strong
enough as bones reaching up to cup my medulla

bulb of my beating, bulb of my breathing, bulb of
………..my being that’s kissed bruise-black:

 

First, medulla is the involuntary
………..beating of the heart mine
………..a sponge
………..soaking up grey skies,
………..the way that pigeons fly.
………..I like my heart, its knocks insistent
………..at my ears when i run: there is
………..not enough, & how clear
………..i can hear it beneath velvet night
………..sky clear as the stars—

………………………………………….how it’s like clay can float
………..or sink into stories of runaway girl
………..slaves not far from my age who could read the night
………..sky its stars (some still the same!) a compass i am lying
………..under—well, under my suburban roof & those stars,
………..the moon who saw it all & the black
………..beat of my heart that still hasn’t stopped that
………………….i couldn’t have hushed if i were
………………….with them, our frightened hearts
………………….lubbing & dubbing.

 

Second, medulla is the in-&-out
………..of air in the body even when i am
………..sleeping & unable to worry about my roughed-up
………..lungs, the right one jealous of the left’s heart-
………..kisses by the second. The brown & black-lined
………..cat we get after we lose the mother my heart cut
………..its teeth on aggravates my asthma; the inhaler becomes
………..part of bed-time, dad insisting a deep inhale then
………..exaggerated exhalation—aspiration of hahh!
………..to clear my little lungs for their cloudy medicine.

………..When i can breathe clear it reminds me
………..of a night sky because a deep

………………….even breath is black & everything

………..as October night—inky clarity!—the velvet
………..tremble of air dark & mysterious
………..slice of cosmos
………..we can see

……………………………i was never too great at breathing
………..but i am great at holding my breath—
………..if they’d’ve come after me,
………..i’d’ve held onto my air till the stars
………..sucked it away.

 

Third, medulla is vomiting, coughing, sneezing,
………..& swallowing the night
………..like it’s a gourd i’m drinking from stars
………..tickling my throat on their way down.
………..Or swallowing whatever mosquito-eggy bog water
………..i could find—

………………….& would those eggs hatch inside warm-wet me like watermelon seeds?
………………… & would mosquitos itch at my insides like free?

………………….& would i brush my throat with a cattail like a bottle?
………………….Or live forever quiet
………..deep-marrow only itching
………..with the vast & black
………..cry of the free night?

 

Fourth, medulla is the movement of blood
………..vessels, swelling & contracting. How cold
………..does the deep South grow? in the dead of winter, night?

………………….Worst case scenario: you go when you & your vessels can
………..constrict—but soon they will flood
………..with warm blood & then do it again
………..& then over again until you are no longer

………..cold. This loop is called the hunting
………..reaction: ironic—don’t know that i’ve ever been the hunter

………………….always felt bone sympathy for wild gazelles only waiting
………..to be cut by claws but maybe for them life’s a fair
………..game—after all, they are not tricked never
……………………………………..trapped never slave
……………………………………………….to the lion, or to the North Star.

………..When i comb the night fingers feel not
………..hot nor cold but velvet crush, a mystery
………..but here, a certainty: in the quiet & dark blood
………..vessels bloom in the quiet & dark flights
………………….beneath sighted moon, my cells’
………..cells once swelled into

 

the cry i am sky dripping
down my yellow-brown
spine up-lifting my black
………..medulla to the moon.

 

 

gun
Inside-lung is honeycombed like coral, like they are underwater trees.

My father used lungs to breathe, sing—first thing, said he was Johnny Cash.
………..Can’t you pick someone better? his mother asked her little brown boy.

Years later, Dad & i listen to Johnny Cash in the car he drives—
I shot a man in Reno / just to watch him die & he snorts That’s terrible

………..Did you know you can live with just one

………………………………………………………………………………………………..lung they are
………………………………………………………………………………………………..not a unit

after all? Deep breaths, he taught
me, to support your words:

……………………………The heart nestles in a notch the right lung provides.
………..That’s the big difference between the two: between right (here) & left (behind).

So, we would play Nintendo 64 Goldeneye, bullet
………..songs ringing our house’s night
………..& me marching James straight
………..into the open space open fire
………..burying bullets in virtual
………..bodies like dirt like nothing
………………….he said damn, Chels
………..like black bodies splashed
………..bloody across my newsfeed
………..bloody across my phone
………..screen i am too bloody
………..around my

heart & did
you know back before, doctors’ fingers would search out the bullet’s path?
………..Did you know that’s why James Garfield died, because their fingers were dirty?

………..Wish i could sink my dumb-dirty fingers into Dad’s coral-comb lung.
Not sure which it was, the left or right—i think right but left behind his
heart & then

……………………………again, i would just see—& bathe that bullet’s tunnel with honey.

 


Chelsey K. Shannon is a young writer living in New Orleans. Her writing has appeared on Autostraddle, and she placed third in the 2015 Northern Colorado Writers Short Fiction contest. As a teenager, she published a memoir about her experience of healing from her father’s untimely death.